Wes Anderson’s latest, delayed a year by the pandemic, finally arrives in some style. The French Dispatch is a lovingly crafted nod to old-school journalism, long before tweets and likes became a thing.
The fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé plays host to the offices of the titular supplement, a satellite of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun newspaper. Dedicated to exploring politics, art and human interest stories, it’s run by one Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray).
The (very) eclectic content of this imagined publication allows Anderson to go off-script, jettisoning the usual feature-length narrative to replace it with an anthology-style approach. Taking the reader/viewer through the magazine, the three main ‘articles’ unspool as short films, a whirlwind of cuts, cameos and inanely imaginative detail. The work that went into assembling The French Dispatch has to be applauded: it’s dazzling.
There is no one major character here, which perhaps is apt for a film set around a newspaper office, where it takes dozens of voices to bring it all together. Tilda Swinton’s art critic narrates the story of an imprisoned artist (Benicio Del Toro) and the ruthless collector (Adrien Brody) who is desperate for his modernist output. Frances McDormand is the hard newshound who speaks of journalistic integrity as she reports on student protests, led by Timothée Chalamet’s angelic, virginal activist (“I feel shy about my new muscles,” he squeaks).
The third part comes in the ‘Tastes and Smells’ section, as Jeffrey Wright gets into a bizarre tale of cuisine and poisoning, one that takes flight into animation (a reminder that after Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle Of Dogs, Anderson is increasingly confident in this arena).
Stylistically, the film is as assured as you’d expect. Anderson’s regular production designer Adam Stockhausen and cinematographer Robert Yeoman are both truly on song here.
The cast of thousands (almost literally) includes too many juicy appearances to mention (one minute you’re spotting Henry Winkler, the next you realise you missed Saoirse Ronan). Likewise, the references and nods to old-school journalism (specifically the New Yorker publication) are so numerous, Anderson is compelled to provide a list of inspirational writers at the end. It may not win over detractors – and it could be seen as slight – but Anderson fans will delight in this latest dispatch.
The French Dispatch premiered at Cannes Film Festival 2021. The film releases October 22 in both the US and UK. Until then, check out our list of the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way.